Part 7 out of 8
illustrious name, an immense fortune. No! You tell me that this
sacrifice will be for his good. No! My child is mine; I will keep him.
The world has no honours, no riches, which can replace a mother's
love. You wish to give me in exchange, that other woman's child.
Never! What! you would have that woman embrace my boy! It is
impossible. Take away this strange child from me; he fills me with
horror; I want my own! Ah, do not insist, do not threaten me with
anger, do not leave me. I should give in, and then, I should die. Guy,
forget this fatal project, the thought of it alone is a crime. Cannot
my prayers, my tears, can nothing move you? Ah, well, God will punish
us. All will be discovered. The day will come when these children will
demand a fearful reckoning. Guy, I foresee the future; I see my son
coming towards me, justly angered. What does he say, great heaven! Oh,
those letters, those letters, sweet memories of our love! My son, he
threatens me! He strikes me! Ah, help! A son strike his mother. Tell
no one of it, though. O my God, what torture! Yet he knows well that I
am his mother. He pretends not to believe me. Lord, this is too much!
Guy! pardon! oh, my only friend! I have neither the power to resist,
nor the courage to obey you."
At this moment the door opening on to the landing opened, and Noel
appeared, pale as usual, but calm and composed. The dying woman saw
him, and the sight affected her like an electric shock. A terrible
shudder shook her frame; her eyes grew inordinately large, her hair
seemed to stand on end. She raised herself on her pillows, stretched
out her arm in the direction where Noel stood, and in a loud voice
She fell back convulsively on the bed. Some one hastened forward: she
A deep silence prevailed.
Such is the majesty of death, and the terror which accompanies it,
that, in its presence, even the strongest and most sceptical bow their
For a time, passions and interests are forgotten. Involuntarily we are
drawn together, when some mutual friend breathes his last in our
All the bystanders were deeply moved by this painful scene, this last
confession, wrested so to say from the delirium.
And the last word uttered by Madame Gerdy, "assassin," surprised no
All, excepting the nun, knew of the awful accusation which had been
made against Albert.
To him they applied the unfortunate mother's malediction.
Noel seemed quite broken hearted. Kneeling by the bedside of her who
had been as a mother to him, he took one of her hands, and pressed it
close to his lips.
"Dead!" he groaned, "she is dead!"
The nun and the priest knelt beside him, and repeated in a low voice
the prayers for the dead.
They implored God to shed his peace and mercy on the departed soul.
They begged for a little happiness in heaven for her who had suffered
so much on earth.
Fallen into a chair, his head thrown back, the Count de Commarin was
more overwhelmed and more livid than this dead woman, his old love,
once so beautiful.
Claire and the doctor hastened to assist him.
They undid his cravat, and took off his shirt collar, for he was
suffocating. With the help of the old soldier, whose red, tearful
eyes, told of suppressed grief, they moved the count's chair to the
half-opened window to give him a little air. Three days before, this
scene would have killed him. But the heart hardens by misfortune, like
hands by labour.
"His tears have saved him," whispered the doctor to Claire.
M. de Commarin gradually recovered, and, as his thoughts became
clearer, his sufferings returned.
Prostration follows great mental shocks. Nature seems to collect her
strength to sustain the misfortune. We do not feel all its intensity
at once; it is only afterwards that we realize the extent and
profundity of the evil.
The count's gaze was fixed upon the bed where lay Valerie's body.
There, then, was all that remained of her. The soul, that soul so
devoted and so tender, had flown.
What would he not have given if God would have restored that
unfortunate woman to life for a day, or even for an hour? With what
transports of repentance he would have cast himself at her feet, to
implore her pardon, to tell her how much he detested his past conduct!
How had he acknowledged the inexhaustible love of that angel? Upon a
mere suspicion, without deigning to inquire, without giving her a
hearing, he had treated her with the coldest contempt. Why had he not
seen her again? He would have spared himself twenty years of doubt as
to Albert's birth. Instead of an isolated existence, he would have led
a happy, joyous life.
Then he remembered the countess's death. She also had loved him, and
had died of her love.
He had not understood them; he had killed them both.
The hour of expiation had come; and he could not say: "Lord, the
punishment is too great."
And yet, what punishment, what misfortunes, during the last five days!
"Yes," he stammered, "she predicted it. Why did I not listen to her?"
Madame Gerdy's brother pitied the old man, so severely tried. He held
out his hand.
"M. de Commarin," he said, in a grave, sad voice, "my sister forgave
you long ago, even if she ever had any ill feeling against you. It is
my turn to-day; I forgive you sincerely."
"Thank you, sir," murmured the count, "thank you!" and then he added:
"What a death!"
"Yes," murmured Claire, "she breathed her last in the idea that her
son was guilty of a crime. And we were not able to undeceive her."
"At least," cried the count, "her son should be free to render her his
last duties; yes, he must be. Noel!"
The advocate had approached his father, and heard all.
"I have promised, father," he replied, "to save him."
For the first time, Mademoiselle d'Arlange was face to face with Noel.
Their eyes met, and she could not restrain a movement of repugnance,
which the advocate perceived.
"Albert is already saved," she said proudly. "What we ask is, that
prompt justice shall be done him; that he shall be immediately set at
liberty. The magistrate now knows the truth."
"The truth?" exclaimed the advocate.
"Yes; Albert passed at my house, with me, the evening the crime was
Noel looked at her surprised; so singular a confession from such a
mouth, without explanation, might well surprise him.
She drew herself up haughtily.
"I am Mademoiselle Claire d'Arlange, sir," said she.
M. de Commarin now quickly ran over all the incidents reported by
When he had finished, Noel replied: "You see, sir, my position at this
"To-morrow?" interrupted the count, "you said, I believe, to-morrow!
Honour demands, sir, that we act to-day, at this moment. You can show
your love for this poor woman much better by delivering her son than
by praying for her."
Noel bowed low.
"To hear your wish, sir, is to obey it," he said; "I go. This evening,
at your house, I shall have the honour of giving you an account of my
proceedings. Perhaps I shall be able to bring Albert with me."
He spoke, and, again embracing the dead woman, went out.
Soon the count and Mademoiselle d'Arlange also retired.
The old soldier went to the Mayor, to give notice of the death, and to
fulfil the necessary formalities.
The nun alone remained, awaiting the priest, which the cure had
promised to send to watch the corpse.
The daughter of St. Vincent felt neither fear nor embarrassment, she
had been so many times in a similar position. Her prayers said, she
arose and went about the room, arranging everything as it should be in
the presence of death. She removed all traces of the illness, put away
the medicine bottles, burnt some sugar upon the fire shovel, and, on a
table covered with a white cloth at the head of the bed, placed some
lighted candles, a crucifix with holy water, and a branch of palm.
Greatly troubled and perplexed by Mademoiselle d'Arlange's
revelations, M. Daburon was ascending the stairs that led to the
offices of the investigating magistrates, when he saw old Tabaret
coming towards him. The sight pleased him, and he at once called out:
But the old fellow, who showed signs of the most intense agitation,
was scarcely disposed to stop, or to lose a single minute.
"You must excuse me, sir," he said, bowing, "but I am expected at
"I hope, however--"
"Oh, he is innocent," interrupted old Tabaret. "I have already some
proofs; and before three days-- But you are going to see Gevrol's man
with the earrings. He is very cunning, Gevrol; I misjudged him."
And without listening to another word, he hurried away, jumping down
three steps at a times, at the risk of breaking his neck.
M. Daburon, greatly disappointed, also hastened on.
In the passage, on a bench of rough wood before his office door,
Albert sat awaiting him, under the charge of a Garde de Paris.
"You will be summoned immediately, sir," said the magistrate to the
prisoner, as he opened his door.
In the office, Constant was talking with a skinny little man, who
might have been taken, from his dress, for a well-to-do inhabitant of
Batignolles, had it not been for the enormous pin in imitation gold
which shone in his cravat, and betrayed the detective.
"You received my letters?" asked M. Daburon of his clerk.
"Your orders have been executed, sir; the prisoner is without, and
here is M. Martin, who this moment arrived from the neighbourhood of
"That is well," said the magistrate in a satisfied tone. And, turning
towards the detective, "Well, M. Martin," he asked, "what did you
"The walls had been scaled, sir."
"Five or six days ago."
"You are sure of this?"
"As sure as I am that I see M. Constant at this moment mending his
"The marks are plain?"
"As plain as the nose on my face, sir, if I may so express myself. The
thief--it was done by a thief, I imagine," continued M. Martin, who
was a great talker--"the thief entered the garden before the rain, and
went away after it, as you had conjectured. This circumstance is easy
to establish by examining the marks on the wall of the ascent and the
descent on the side towards the street. These marks are several
abrasions, evidently made by feet of some one climbing. The first are
clean; the others, muddy. The scamp--he was a nimble fellow--in
getting in, pulled himself up by the strength of his wrists; but when
going away, he enjoyed the luxury of a ladder, which he threw down as
soon as he was on the top of the wall. It is to see where he placed
it, by holes made in the ground by the fellow's weight; and also by
the mortar which has been knocked away from the top of the wall."
"Is that all?" asked the magistrate.
"Not yet, sir. Three of the pieces of glass which cover the top of the
wall have been removed. Several of the acacia branches, which extend
over the wall have been twisted or broken. Adhering to the thorns of
one of these branches, I found this little piece of lavender kid,
which appears to me to belong to a glove."
The magistrate eagerly seized the piece of kid.
It had evidently come from a glove.
"You took care, I hope, M. Martin," said M. Daburon, "not to attract
attention at the house where you made this investigation?"
"Certainly, sir. I first of all examined the exterior of the wall at
my leisure. After that, leaving my hat at a wine shop round the
corner, I called at the Marchioness d'Arlange's house, pretending to
be the servant of a neighbouring duchess, who was in despair at having
lost a favourite, and, if I may so speak, an eloquent parrot. I was
very kindly given permission to explore the garden; and, as I spoke as
disrespectfully as possible of my pretended mistress they, no doubt,
took me for a genuine servant."
"You are an adroit and prompt fellow, M. Martin," interrupted the
magistrate. "I am well satisfied with you; and I will report you
favourably at headquarters."
He rang his bell, while the detective, delighted at the praise he had
received, moved backwards to the door, bowing the while.
Albert was then brought in.
"Have you decided, sir," asked the investigating magistrate without
preamble, "to give me a true account of how you spent last Tuesday
"I have already told you, sir."
"No, sir, you have not; and I regret to say that you lied to me."
Albert, at this apparent insult, turned red, and his eyes flashed.
"I know all that you did on that evening," continued the magistrate,
"because justice, as I have already told you, is ignorant of nothing
that it is important for it to know."
Then, looking straight into Albert's eyes, he continued slowly: "I
have seen Mademoiselle Claire d'Arlange."
On hearing that name, the prisoner's features, contracted by a firm
resolve not to give way, relaxed.
It seemed as though he experienced an immense sensation of delight,
like a man who escapes almost by a miracle from an imminent danger
which he had despaired of avoiding. However, he made no reply.
"Mademoiselle d'Arlange," continued the magistrate, "has told me where
you were on Tuesday evening."
Albert still hesitated.
"I am not setting a trap for you," added M. Daburon; "I give you my
word of honour. She has told me all, you understand?"
This time Albert decided to speak.
His explanations corresponded exactly with Claire's; not one detail
more. Henceforth, doubt was impossible.
Mademoiselle d'Arlange had not been imposed upon. Either Albert was
innocent, or she was his accomplice.
Could she knowingly be the accomplice of such an odious crime? No; she
could not even be suspected of it.
But who then was the assassin?
For, when a crime has been committed, justice demands a culprit.
"You see, sir," said the magistrate severely to Albert, "you did
deceive me. You risked your life, sir, and, what is also very serious,
you exposed me, you exposed justice, to commit a most deplorable
mistake. Why did you not tell me the truth at once?"
"Mademoiselle d'Arlange, sir," replied Albert, "in according me a
meeting, trusted in my honour."
"And you would have died sooner than mention that interview?"
interrupted M. Daburon with a touch of irony. "That is all very fine,
sir, and worthy of the days of chivalry!"
"I am not the hero that you suppose, sir," replied the prisoner
simply. "If I told you that I did not count on Claire, I should be
telling a falsehood. I was waiting for her. I knew that, on learning
of my arrest, she would brave everything to save me. But her friends
might have hid it from her; and that was what I feared. In that event,
I do not think, so far as one can answer for oneself, that I should
have mentioned her name."
There was no appearance of bravado. What Albert said, he thought and
felt. M. Daburon regretted his irony.
"Sir," he said kindly, "you must return to your prison. I cannot
release you yet; but you will be no longer in solitary confinement.
You will be treated with every attention due to a prisoner whose
innocence appears probable."
Albert bowed, and thanked him; and was then removed.
"We are now ready for Gevrol," said the magistrate to his clerk.
The chief of detectives was absent: he had been sent for from the
Prefecture of Police; but his witness, the man with the earrings, was
waiting in the passage.
He was told to enter.
He was one of those short, thick-set men, powerful as oaks, who look
as though they could carry almost any weight on their broad shoulders.
His white hair and whiskers set off his features, hardened and tanned
by the inclemency of the weather, the sea winds and the heat of the
He had large callous black hands, with big sinewy fingers which must
have possessed the strength of a vice.
Great earrings in the form of anchors hung from his ears. He was
dressed in the costume of a well-to-do Normandy fisherman, out for a
The clerk was obliged to push him into the office, for this son of the
ocean was timid and abashed when on shore.
He advanced, balancing himself first on one leg, then on the other,
with that irregular walk of the sailor, who, used to the rolling and
tossing of the waves, is surprised to find anything immovable beneath
To give himself confidence, he fumbled over his soft felt hat,
decorated with little lead medals, like the cap of king Louis XI. of
devout memory, and also adorned with some if that worsted twist made
by the young country girls, on a primitive frame composed of four or
five pins stuck in a hollow cork.
M. Daburon examined him, and estimated him at a glance. There was no
doubt but that he was the sunburnt man described by one of the
witnesses at La Jonchere.
It was also impossible to doubt his honesty. His open countenance
displayed sincerity and good nature.
"Your name?" demanded the investigating magistrate.
"Marie Pierre Lerouge."
"Are you, then, related to Claudine Lerouge?"
"I am her husband, sir."
What, the husband of the victim alive, and the police ignorant of his
Thus thought M. Daburon.
What, then, does this wonderful progress in invention accomplish?
To-day, precisely as twenty years ago, when Justice is in doubt, it
requires the same inordinate loss of time and money to obtain the
On Friday, they had written to inquire about Claudine's past life; it
was now Monday, and no reply had arrived.
And yet photography was in existence, and the electric telegraph. They
had at their service a thousand means, formerly unknown; and they made
no use of them.
"Every one," said the magistrate, "believed her a widow. She herself
pretended to be one."
"Yes, for in that way she partly excused her conduct. Besides, it was
an arrangement between ourselves. I had told her that I would have
nothing more to do with her."
"Indeed? Well, you know that she is dead, victim of an odious crime?"
"The detective who brought me here told me of it, sir," replied the
sailor, his face darkening. "She was a wretch!" he added in a hollow
"How? You, her husband, accuse her?"
"I have but too good reason to do so, sir. Ah, my dead father, who
foresaw it all at the time, warned me! I laughed, when he said, 'Take
care, or she will dishonour us all.' He was right. Through her, I have
been hunted down by the police, just like some skulking thief.
Everywhere that they inquired after me with their warrant, people must
have said 'Ah, ha, he has then committed some crime!' And here I am
before a magistrate! Ah, sir, what a disgrace! The Lerouges have been
honest people, from father to son, ever since the world began. Inquire
of all who have ever had dealings with me, they will tell you,
'Lerouge's word is as good as another man's writing.' Yes, she was a
wicked woman; and I have often told her that she would come to a bad
"You told her that?"
"More than a hundred times, sir."
"Why? Come, my friend, do not be uneasy, your honour is not at stake
here, no one questions it. When did you warn her so wisely?"
"Ah, a long time ago, sir," replied the sailor, "the first time was
more than thirty years back. She had ambition even in her blood; she
wished to mix herself up in the intrigues of the great. It was that
that ruined her. She said that one got money for keeping secrets; and
I said that one got disgraced and that was all. To help the great to
hide their villainies, and to expect happiness from it, is like making
your bed of thorns, in the hope of sleeping well. But she had a will
of her own."
"You were her husband, though," objected M. Daburon, "you had the
right to command her obedience."
The sailor shook his head, and heaved a deep sigh.
"Alas, sir! it was I who obeyed."
To proceed by short inquiries with a witness, when you have no idea of
the information he brings, is but to lose time in attempting to gain
it. When you think you are approaching the important fact, you may be
just avoiding it. It is much better to give the witness the rein, and
to listen carefully, putting him back on the track should he get too
far away. It is the surest and easiest method. This was the course M.
Daburon adopted, all the time cursing Gevrol's absence, as he by a
single word could have shortened by a good half the examination, the
importance of which, by the way, the magistrate did not even suspect.
"In what intrigues did your wife mingle?" asked he. "Go on, my friend,
tell me everything exactly; here, you know, we must have not only the
truth, but the whole truth."
Lerouge placed his hat on a chair. Then he began alternately to pull
his fingers, making them crack almost sufficiently to break them, and
ultimately scratched his head violently. It was his way of arranging
"I must tell you," he began, "that it will be thirty-five years on St.
John's day since I fell in love with Claudine. She was a pretty, neat,
fascinating girl, with a voice sweeter than honey. She was the most
beautiful girl in our part of the country, straight as a mast, supple
as a willow, graceful and strong as a racing boat. Her eyes sparkled
like old cider; her hair was black, her teeth as white as pearls, and
her breath was as fresh as the sea breeze. The misfortune was, that
she hadn't a sou, while we were in easy circumstances. Her mother, who
was the widow of I can't say how many husbands, was, saving your
presence, a bad woman, and my father was the worthiest man alive. When
I spoke to the old fellow of marrying Claudine he swore fiercely, and
eight days after, he sent me to Porto on a schooner belonging to one
of our neighbours, just to give me a change of air. I came back, at
the end of six months, thinner than a marling spike, but more in love
than ever. Recollections of Claudine scorched me like a fire. I could
scarcely eat or drink; but I felt that she loved me a little in
return, for I was a fine young fellow, and more than one girl had set
her cap at me. Then my father, seeing that he could do nothing, that I
was wasting away, and was on the road to join my mother in the
cemetery, decided to let me complete my folly. So one evening, after
we had returned from fishing and I got up from supper without tasting
it, he said to me, 'Marry the hag's daughter, and let's have no more
of this.' I remember it distinctly, because, when I heard the old
fellow call my love such a name, I flew into a great passion, and
almost wanted to kill him. Ah, one never gains anything by marrying in
opposition to one's parents!"
The worthy fellow was lost in the midst of his recollections. He was
very far from his story. The investigating magistrate attempted to
bring him back into the right path, "Come to the point," he said.
"I am going to, sir; but it was necessary to begin at the beginning. I
married. The evening after the wedding, and when the relatives and
guests had departed, I was about to join my wife, when I perceived my
father all alone in a corner weeping. The sight touched my heart, and
I had a foreboding of evil; but it quickly passed away. It is so
delightful during the first six months one passes with a dearly loved
wife! One seems to be surrounded by mists that change the very rocks
into palaces and temples so completely that novices are taken in. For
two years, in spite of a few little quarrels, everything went on
nicely. Claudine managed me like a child. Ah, she was cunning! She
might have seized and bound me, and carried me to market and sold me,
without my noticing it. Her great fault was her love of finery. All
that I earned, and my business was very prosperous, she put on her
back. Every week there was something new, dresses, jewels, bonnets,
the devil's baubles, which the dealers invent for the perdition of the
female sex. The neighbors chattered, but I thought it was all right.
At the baptism of our son, who was called Jacques after my father, to
please her, I squandered all I had economized during my youth, more
than three hundred pistoles, with which I had intended purchasing a
meadow that lay in the midst of our property."
M. Daburon was boiling over with impatience, but he could do nothing.
"Go on, go on," he said every time Lerouge seemed inclined to stop.
"I was well enough pleased," continued the sailor, "until one morning
I saw one of the Count de Commarin's servants entering our house; the
count's chateau is only about a mile from where I lived on the other
side of the town. It was a fellow named Germain whom I didn't like at
all. It was said about the country that he had been mixed up in the
seduction of poor Thomassine, a fine young girl who lived near us; she
appears to have pleased the count, and one day suddenly disappeared. I
asked my wife what the fellow wanted; she replied that he had come to
ask her to take a child to nurse. I would not hear of it at first, for
our means were sufficient to allow Claudine to keep all her milk for
our own child. But she gave me the very best of reasons. She said she
regretted her past flirtations and her extravagance. She wished to
earn a little money, being ashamed of doing nothing while I was
killing myself with work. She wanted to save, to economize, so that
our child should not be obliged in his turn to go to sea. She was to
get a very good price, that we could save up to go towards the three
hundred pistoles. That confounded meadow, to which she alluded,
"Did she not tell you of the commission with which she was charged?"
asked the magistrate.
This question astonished Lerouge. He thought that there was good
reason to say that justice sees and knows everything.
"Not then," he answered, "but you will see. Eight days after, the
postman brought a letter, asking her to go to Paris to fetch the
child. It arrived in the evening. 'Very well,' said she, 'I will start
to-morrow by the diligence.' I didn't say a word then; but next
morning, when she was about to take her seat in the diligence, I
declared that I was going with her. She didn't seem at all angry, on
the contrary. She kissed me, and I was delighted. At Paris, she was to
call for the little one at a Madame Gerdy's, who lived on the
Boulevard. We arranged that she should go alone, while I awaited for
her at our inn. After she had gone, I grew uneasy. I went out soon
after, and prowled about near Madame Gerdy's house, making inquiries
of the servants and others; I soon discovered that she was the Count
de Commarin's mistress. I felt so annoyed that, if I had been master,
my wife should have come away without the little bastard. I am only a
poor sailor, and I know that a man sometimes forgets himself. One
takes too much to drink, for instance, or goes out on the loose with
some friends; but that a man with a wife and children should live with
another woman and give her what really belongs to his legitimate
offspring, I think is bad--very bad. Is it not so, sir?"
The investigating magistrate moved impatiently in his chair. "Will
this man never come to the point," he muttered. "Yes, you are
perfectly right," he added aloud; "but never mind your thoughts. Go
on, go on!"
"Claudine, sir, was more obstinate than a mule. After three days of
violent discussion, she obtained from me a reluctant consent, between
two kisses. Then she told me that we were not going to return home by
the diligence. The lady, who feared the fatigue of the journey for her
child, had arranged that we should travel back by short stages, in her
carriage, and drawn by her horses. For she was kept in grand style. I
was ass enough to be delighted, because it gave me a chance to see the
country at my leisure. We were, therefore, installed with the
children, mine and the other, in an elegant carriage, drawn by
magnificent animals, and driven by a coachman in livery. My wife was
mad with joy; she kissed me over and over again, and chinked handfuls
of gold in my face. I felt as foolish as an honest husband who finds
money in his house which he didn't earn himself. Seeing how I felt,
Claudine, hoping to pacify me, resolved to tell me the whole truth.
'See here,' she said to me,--"
Lerouge stopped, and, changing his tone, said, "You understand that it
is my wife who is speaking?"
"Yes, yes. Go on."
"She said to me, shaking her pocket full of money, 'See here, my man,
we shall always have as much of this as ever we may want, and this is
why: The count, who also had a legitimate child at the same time as
this bastard, wishes that this one shall bear his name instead of the
other; and this can be accomplished, thanks to me. On the road, we
shall meet at the inn, where we are to sleep, M. Germain and the nurse
to whom they have entrusted the legitimate son. We shall be put in the
same room, and, during the night, I am to change the little ones, who
have been purposely dressed alike. For this the count gives me eight
thousand francs down, and a life annuity of a thousand francs.'"
"And you!" exclaimed the magistrate, "you, who call yourself an honest
man, permitted such villainy, when one word would have been sufficient
to prevent it?"
"Sir, I beg of you," entreated Lerouge, "permit me to finish."
"I could say nothing at first, I was so choked with rage. I must have
looked terrible. But she, who was generally afraid of me when I was in
a passion, burst out laughing, and said, 'What a fool you are! Listen,
before turning sour like a bowl of milk. The count is the only one who
wants this change made; and he is the one that's to pay for it. His
mistress, this little one's mother, doesn't want it at all; she merely
pretended to consent, so as not to quarrel with her lover, and because
she has got a plan of her own. She took me aside, during my visit in
her room, and, after having made me swear secrecy on a crucifix, she
told me that she couldn't bear the idea of separating herself from her
babe forever, and of bringing up another's child. She added that, if I
would agree not to change the children, and not to tell the count, she
would give me ten thousand francs down, and guarantee me an annuity
equal to the one the count had promised me. She declared, also, that
she could easily find out whether I kept my word, as she had made a
mark of recognition on her little one. She didn't show me the mark;
and I have examined him carefully, but can't find it. Do you
understand now? I merely take care of this little fellow here. I tell
the count that I have changed the children; we receive from both
sides, and Jacques will be rich. Now kiss your little wife who has
more sense than you, you old dear!' That, sir, is word for word what
Claudine said to me."
The rough sailor drew from his pocket a large blue-checked
handkerchief, and blew his nose so violently that the windows shook.
It was his way of weeping.
M. Daburon was confounded. Since the beginning of this sad affair, he
had encountered surprise after surprise. Scarcely had he got his ideas
in order on one point, when all his attention was directed to another.
He felt himself utterly routed. What was he about to learn now? He
longed to interrogate quickly, but he saw that Lerouge told his story
with difficulty, laboriously disentangling his recollections; he was
guided by a single thread which the least interruption might seriously
"What Claudine proposed to me," continued the sailor, "was villainous;
and I am an honest man. But she kneaded me to her will as easily as a
baker kneads dough. She turned my heart topsy-turvy: she made me see
white as snow that which was really as black as ink. How I loved her!
She proved to me that we were wronging no one, that we were making
little Jacques's fortune, and I was silenced. At evening we arrived at
some village; and the coachman, stopping the carriage before an inn,
told us we were to sleep there. We entered, and who do you think we
saw? That scamp, Germain, with a nurse carrying a child dressed so
exactly like the one we had that I was startled. They had journeyed
there, like ourselves, in one of the count's carriages. A suspicion
crossed my mind. How could I be sure that Claudine had not invented
the second story to pacify me? She was certainly capable of it. I was
enraged. I had consented to the one wickedness, but not to the other.
I resolved not to lose sight of the little bastard, swearing that they
shouldn't change it; so I kept him all the evening on my knees, and to
be all the more sure, I tied my handkerchief about his waist. Ah! the
plan had been well laid. After supper, some one spoke of retiring, and
then it turned out that there were only two double-bedded rooms in the
house. It seemed as though it had been built expressly for the scheme.
The innkeeper said that the two nurses might sleep in one room, and
Germain and myself in the other. Do you understand, sir? Add to this,
that during the evening I had surprised looks of intelligence passing
between my wife and that rascally servant, and you can imagine how
furious I was. It was conscience that spoke; and I was trying to
silence it. I knew very well that I was doing wrong; and I almost
wished myself dead. Why is it that women can turn an honest man's
conscience about like a weather-cock with their wheedling?"
M. Daburon's only reply was a heavy blow of his fist on the table.
Lerouge proceeded more quickly.
"As for me, I upset that arrangement, pretending to be too jealous to
leave my wife a minute. They were obliged to give way to me. The other
nurse went up to bed first. Claudine and I followed soon afterwards.
My wife undressed and got into bed with our son and the little
bastard. I did not undress. Under the pretext that I should be in the
way of the children, I installed myself in a chair near the bed,
determined not to shut my eyes, and to keep close watch. I put out the
candle, in order to let the women sleep, though I could not think of
doing so myself; and I thought of my father, and of what he would say,
if he ever heard of my behaviour. Towards midnight, I heard Claudine
moving. I held my breath. She was getting out of bed. Was she going to
change the children? Now, I knew that she was not; then, I felt sure
that she was. I was beside myself, and seizing her by the arm, I
commenced to beat her roughly, giving free vent to all that I had on
my heart. I spoke in a loud voice, the same as when I am on board ship
in a storm; I swore like a fiend, I raised a frightful disturbance.
The other nurse cried out as though she were being murdered. At this
uproar, Germain rushed in with a lighted candle. The sight of him
finished me. Not knowing what I was doing, I drew from my pocket a
long Spanish knife, which I always carried, and seizing the cursed
bastard, I thrust the blade through his arm, crying, 'This way, at
least, he can't be changed without my knowing it; he is marked for
Lerouge could scarcely utter another word. Great drops of sweat stood
out upon his brow, then, trickling down his cheeks, lodged in the deep
wrinkles of his face. He panted; but the magistrate's stern glance
harassed him, and urged him on, like the whip which flogs the negro
slave overcome with fatigue.
"The little fellow's wound," he resumed, "was terrible. It bled
dreadfully, and he might have died; but I didn't think of that. I was
only troubled about the future, about what might happen afterwards. I
declared that I would write out all that had occurred, and that
everyone should sign it. This was done; we could all four write.
Germain didn't dare resist; for I spoke with knife in hand. He wrote
his name first, begging me to say nothing about it to the count,
swearing that, for his part, he would never breathe a word of it, and
pledging the other nurse to a like secrecy."
"And have you kept this paper?" asked M. Daburon.
"Yes, sir, and as the detective to whom I confessed all, advised me to
bring it with me, I went to take it from the place where I always kept
it, and I have it here."
"Give it to me."
Lerouge took from his coat pocket an old parchment pocket-book,
fastened with a leather thong, and withdrew from it a paper yellowed
by age and carefully sealed.
"Here it is," said he. "The paper hasn't been opened since that
And, in fact, when the magistrate unfolded it, some dust fell out,
which had been used to keep the writing, when wet, from blotting.
It was really a brief description of the scene, described by the old
sailor. The four signatures were there.
"What has become of the witnesses who signed this declaration?"
murmured the magistrate, speaking to himself.
Lerouge, who thought the question was put to him, replied, "Germain is
dead. I have been told that he was drowned when out rowing. Claudine
has just been assassinated; but the other nurse still lives. I even
know that she spoke of the affair to her husband, for he hinted as
much to me. His name is Brosette, and she lives in the village of
"And what next?" asked the magistrate, after having taken down the
name and address.
"The next day, sir, Claudine managed to pacify me, and extorted a
promise of secrecy. The child was scarcely ill at all; but he retained
an enormous scar on his arm."
"Was Madame Gerdy informed of what took place?"
"I do not think so, sir. But I would rather say that I do not know."
"What! you do not know?"
"Yes, sir, I swear it. You see my ignorance comes from what happened
"What happened, then?"
The sailor hesitated.
"That, sir, concerns only myself, and--"
"My friend," interrupted the magistrate, "you are an honest man, I
believe; in fact, I am sure of it. But once in your life, influenced
by a wicked woman, you did wrong, you became an accomplice in a very
guilty action. Repair that error by speaking truly now. All that is
said here, and which is not directly connected with the crime, will
remain secret; even I will forget it immediately. Fear nothing,
therefore; and, if you experience some humiliation, think that it is
your punishment for the past."
"Alas, sir," answered the sailor, "I have been already greatly
punished; and it is a long time since my troubles began. Money,
wickedly acquired, brings no good. On arriving home, I bought the
wretched meadow for much more than it was worth; and the day I walked
over it, feeling that is was actually mine, closed my happiness.
Claudine was a coquette; but she had a great many other vices. When
she realised how much money we had these vices showed themselves, just
like a fire, smouldering at the bottom of the hold, bursts forth when
you open the hatches. From slightly greedy as she had been, she became
a regular glutton. In our house there was feasting without end.
Whenever I went to sea, she would entertain the worst women in the
place; and there was nothing too good or too expensive for them. She
would get so drunk that she would have to be put to bed. Well, one
night, when she thought me at Rouen, I returned unexpectedly. I
entered, and found her with a man. And such a man, sir! A miserable
looking wretch, ugly, dirty, stinking; shunned by everyone; in a word
the bailiff's clerk. I should have killed him, like the vermin that he
was; it was my right, but he was such a pitiful object. I took him by
the neck and pitched him out of the window, without opening it! It
didn't kill him. Then I fell upon my wife, and beat her until she
Lerouge spoke in a hoarse voice, every now and then thrusting his
fists into his eyes.
"I pardoned her," he continued; "but the man who beats his wife and
then pardons her is lost. In the future, she took better precautions,
became a greater hypocrite, and that was all. In the meanwhile, Madame
Gerdy took back her child; and Claudine had nothing more to restrain
her. Protected and counselled by her mother, whom she had taken to
live with us, on the pretence of looking after Jacques, she managed to
deceive me for more than a year. I thought she had given up her bad
habits, but not at all; she lived a most disgraceful life. My house
became the resort of all the good-for-nothing rogues in the country,
for whom my wife brought out bottles of wine and brandy, whenever I
was away at sea, and they got drunk promiscuously. When money failed,
she wrote to the count or his mistress, and the orgies continued.
Occasionally I had doubts which disturbed me; and then without reason,
for a simple yes or no, I would beat her until I was tired, and then I
would forgive her, like a coward, like a fool. It was a cursed life. I
don't know which gave me the most pleasure, embracing her or beating
her. My neighbors despised me, and turned their backs on me; they
believed me an accomplice or a willing dupe. I heard, afterwards, that
they believed I profited by my wife's misconduct; while in reality she
paid her lovers. At all events, people wondered where all the money
came from that was spent in my house. To distinguish me from a cousin
of mine, also named Lerouge, they tacked an infamous word on to my
name. What disgrace! And I knew nothing of all the scandal, no,
nothing. Was I not the husband? Fortunately, though, my poor father
M. Daburon pitied the speaker sincerely.
"Rest a while, my friend," he said; "compose yourself."
"No," replied the sailor, "I would rather get through with it quickly.
One man, the priest, had the charity to tell me of it. If ever he
should want Lerouge! Without losing a minute, I went and saw a lawyer,
and asked him how an honest sailor who had had the misfortune to marry
a hussy ought to act. He said that nothing could be done. To go to law
was simply to publish abroad one's own dishonour, while a separation
would accomplish nothing. When once a man has given his name to a
woman, he told me, he cannot take it back; it belongs to her for the
rest of her days, and she has a right to dispose of it. She may sully
it, cover it with mire, drag it from wine shop to wine shop, and her
husband can do nothing. That being the case, my course was soon taken.
That same day, I sold the fatal meadow, and sent the proceeds of it to
Claudine, wishing to keep nothing of the price of shame. I then had a
document drawn up, authorising her to administer our property, but not
allowing her either to sell or mortgage it. Then I wrote her a letter
in which I told her that she need never expect to hear of me again,
that I was nothing more to her, and that she might look upon herself
as a widow. That same night I went away with my son."
"And what became of your wife after your departure?"
"I cannot say, sir; I only know that she quitted the neighbourhood a
year after I did."
"You have never lived with her since?"
"But you were at her house three days before the crime was committed."
"That is true, but it was absolutely necessary. I had had much trouble
to find her, no one knew what had become of her. Fortunately my notary
was able to procure Madame Gerdy's address; he wrote to her, and that
is how I learnt that Claudine was living at La Jonchere. I was then at
Rome. Captain Gervais, who is a friend of mine, offered to take me to
Paris on his boat, and I accepted. Ah, sir, what a shock I experienced
when I entered her house! My wife did not know me! By constantly
telling everyone that I was dead, she had without a doubt ended by
believing it herself. When I told her my name, she fell back in her
chair. The wretched woman had not changed in the least; she had by her
side a glass and a bottle of brandy--"
"All this doesn't explain why you went to seek your wife."
"It was on Jacques's account, sir, that I went. The youngster has
grown to be a man; and he wants to marry. For that, his mother's
consent was necessary; and I was taking to Claudine a document which
the notary had drawn up, and which she signed. This is it."
M. Daburon took the paper, and appeared to read it attentively. After
a moment he asked: "Have you thought who could have assassinated your
Lerouge made no reply.
"Do you suspect any one?" persisted the magistrate.
"Well, sir," replied the sailor, "what can I say? I thought that
Claudine had wearied out the people from whom she drew money, like
water from a well; or else getting drunk one day, she had blabbed too
The testimony being as complete as possible, M. Daburon dismissed
Lerouge, at the same time telling him to wait for Gevrol, who would
take him to a hotel, where he might wait, at the disposal of justice,
until further orders.
"All your expenses will be paid you," added the magistrate.
Lerouge had scarcely left, when an extraordinary, unheard of,
unprecedented event took place in the magistrate's office. Constant,
the serious, impressive, immovable, deaf and dumb Constant, rose from
his seat and spoke.
He broke a silence of fifteen years. He forgot himself so far as to
offer an opinion.
"This, sir," said he, "is a most extraordinary affair."
Very extraordinary, truly, thought M. Daburon, and calculated to rout
all predictions, all preconceived opinions.
Why had he, the magistrate, moved with such deplorable haste? Why
before risking anything, had he not waited to possess all the elements
of this important case, to hold all the threads of this complicated
Justice is accused of slowness; but it is this very slowness that
constitutes its strength and surety, its almost infallibility. One
scarcely knows what a time evidence takes to produce itself. There is
no knowing what important testimony investigations apparently useless
When the entanglement of the various passions and motives seems
hopeless, an unknown personage presents himself, coming from no one
knows where, and it is he who explains everything.
M. Daburon, usually the most prudent of men, had considered as simple
one of the most complex of cases. He had acted in a mysterious crime,
which demanded the utmost caution, as carelessly as though it were a
case of simple misdemeanour. Why? Because his memory had not left him
his free deliberation, judgment, and discernment. He had feared
equally appearing weak and being revengeful. Thinking himself sure of
his facts, he had been carried away by his animosity. And yet how
often had he not asked himself: Where is duty? But then, when one is
at all doubtful about duty, one is on the wrong road.
The singular part of it all was that the magistrate's faults sprang
from his very honesty. He had been led astray by a too great
refinement of conscience. The scruples which troubled him had filled
his mind with phantoms, and had prompted in him the passionate
animosity he had displayed at a certain moment.
Calmer now, he examined the case more soundly. As a whole, thank
heaven! there was nothing done which could not be repaired. He accused
himself, however, none the less harshly. Chance alone had stopped him.
At that moment he resolved that he would never undertake another
investigation. His profession henceforth inspired him with an
unconquerable loathing. Then his interview with Claire had re-opened
all the old wounds in his heart, and they bled more painfully than
ever. He felt, in despair, that his life was broken, ruined. A man may
well feel so, when all women are as nothing to him except one, whom he
may never dare hope to possess. Too pious a man to think of suicide,
he asked himself with anguish what would become of him when he threw
aside his magistrate's robes.
Then he turned again to the business in hand. In any case, innocent or
guilty, Albert was really the Viscount de Commarin, the count's
legitimate son. But was he guilty? Evidently he was not.
"I think," exclaimed M. Daburon suddenly, "I must speak to the Count
de Commarin. Constant, send to his house a message for him to come
here at once; if he is not at home, he must be sought for."
M. Daburon felt that an unpleasant duty was before him. He would be
obliged to say to the old nobleman: "Sir, your legitimate son is not
Noel, but Albert." What a position, not only painful, but bordering on
the ridiculous! As a compensation, though, he could tell him that
Albert was innocent.
To Noel he would also have to tell the truth: hurl him to earth, after
having raised him among the clouds. What a blow it would be! But,
without a doubt, the count would make him some compensation; at least,
he ought to.
"Now," murmured the magistrate, "who can be the criminal?"
An idea crossed his mind, at first it seemed to him absurd. He
rejected it, then thought of it again. He examined it in all its
various aspects. He had almost adopted it, when M. de Commarin
entered. M. Daburon's messenger had arrived just as the count was
alighting from his carriage, on returning with Claire from Madame
Old Tabaret talked, but he acted also.
Abandoned by the investigating magistrate to his own resources, he set
to work without losing a minute and without taking a moment's rest.
The story of the cabriolet, drawn by a swift horse, was exact in every
Lavish with his money, the old fellow had gathered together a dozen
detectives on leave or rogues out of work; and at the head of these
worthy assistants, seconded by his friend Lecoq, he had gone to
He had actually searched the country, house by house, with the
obstinacy and the patience of a maniac hunting for a needle in a hay-
His efforts were not absolutely wasted.
After three days' investigation, he felt comparatively certain that
the assassin had not left the train at Rueil, as all the people of
Bougival, La Jonchere, and Marly do, but had gone on as far as Chatou.
Tabaret thought he recognized him in a man described to him by the
porters at that station as rather young, dark, and with black
whiskers, carrying an overcoat and an umbrella.
This person, who arrived by the train which left Paris for St. Germain
at thirty-five minutes past eight in the evening, had appeared to be
in a very great hurry.
On quitting the station, he had started off at a rapid pace on the
road which led to Bougival. Upon the way, two men from Marly and a
woman from La Malmaison had noticed him on account of his rapid pace.
He smoked as he hurried along.
On crossing the bridge which joins the two banks of the Seine at
Bougival, he had been still more noticed.
It is usual to pay a toll on crossing this bridge; and the supposed
assassin had apparently forgotten this circumstance. He passed without
paying, keeping up his rapid pace, pressing his elbows to his side,
husbanding his breath, and the gate-keeper was obliged to run after
him for his toll.
He seemed greatly annoyed at the circumstance, threw the man a ten sou
piece, and hurried on, without waiting for the nine sous change.
Nor was that all.
The station master at Rueil remembered, that, two minutes before the
quarter past ten train came up, a passenger arrived very agitated, and
so out of breath that he could scarcely ask for a second class ticket
The appearance of this man corresponded exactly with the description
given of him by the porters at Chatou, and by the gatekeeper at the
Finally, the old man thought he was on the track of some one who
entered the same carriage as the breathless passenger. He had been
told of a baker living at Asnieres, and he had written to him, asking
him to call at his house.
Such was old Tabaret's information, when on the Monday morning he
called at the Palais de Justice, in order to find out if the record of
Widow Lerouge's past life had been received. He found that nothing had
arrived, but in the passage he met Gevrol and his man.
The chief of detectives was triumphant, and showed it too. As soon as
he saw Tabaret, he called out, "Well, my illustrious mare's-nest
hunter, what news? Have you had any more scoundrels guillotined since
the other day? Ah, you old rogue, you want to oust me from my place I
The old man was sadly changed.
The consciousness of his mistake made him humble and meek. These
pleasantries, which a few days before would have made him angry, now
did not touch him. Instead of retaliating, he bowed his head in such a
penitent manner that Gevrol was astonished.
"Jeer at me, my good M. Gevrol," he replied, "mock me without pity;
you are right, I deserve it all."
"Ah, come now," said the chief, "have you then performed some new
masterpiece, you impetuous old fellow?"
Old Tabaret shook his head sadly.
"I have delivered up an innocent man," he said, "and justice will not
restore him his freedom."
Gevrol was delighted, and rubbed his hands until he almost wore away
"This is fine," he sang out, "this is capital. To bring criminals to
justice is of no account at all. But to free the innocent, by Jove!
that is the last touch of art. Tirauclair, you are an immense wonder;
and I bow before you."
And at the same time, he raised his hat ironically.
"Don't crush me," replied the old fellow. "As you know, in spite of my
grey hairs, I am young in the profession. Because chance served me
three or four times, I became foolishly proud. I have learned too late
that I am not all that I had thought myself; I am but an apprentice,
and success has turned my head; while you, M. Gevrol, you are the
master of all of us. Instead of laughing, pray help me, aid me with
your advice and your experience. Alone, I can do nothing, while with
Gevrol is vain in the highest degree.
Tabaret's submission tickled his pretensions as a detective immensely;
for in reality he thought the old man very clever. He was softened.
"I suppose," he said patronisingly, "you refer to the La Jonchere
"Alas! yes, my dear M. Gevrol, I wished to work without you, and I
have got myself into a pretty mess."
Cunning old Tabaret kept his countenance as penitent as that of a
sacristan caught eating meat on a Friday; but he was inwardly laughing
and rejoicing all the while.
"Conceited fool!" he thought, "I will flatter you so much that you
will end by doing everything I want."
M. Gevrol rubbed his nose, put out his lower lip, and said, "Ah,--
He pretended to hesitate; but it was only because he enjoyed
prolonging the old amateur's discomfiture.
"Come," said he at last, "cheer up, old Tirauclair. I'm a good fellow
at heart, and I'll give you a lift. That's kind, isn't it? But,
to-day, I'm too busy, I've an appointment to keep. Come to me
to-morrow morning, and we'll talk it over. But before we part I'll
give you a light to find your way with. Do you know who that witness
is that I've brought?"
"No; but tell me, my good M. Gevrol."
"Well, that fellow on the bench there, who is waiting for M. Daburon,
is the husband of the victim of the La Jonchere tragedy!"
"Is it possible?" exclaimed old Tabaret, perfectly astounded. Then,
after reflecting a moment, he added, "You are joking with me."
"No, upon my word. Go and ask him his name; he will tell you that it
is Pierre Lerouge."
"She wasn't a widow then?"
"It appears not," replied Gevrol sarcastically, "since there is her
"Whew!" muttered the old fellow. "And does he know anything?"
In a few sentences, the chief of detectives related to his amateur
colleague the story that Lerouge was about to tell the investigating
"What do you say to that?" he asked when he came to the end.
"What do I say to that?" stammered old Tabaret, whose countenance
indicated intense astonishment; "what do I say to that? I don't say
anything. But I think,--no, I don't think anything either!"
"A slight surprise, eh?" said Gevrol, beaming.
"Say rather an immense one," replied Tabaret.
But suddenly he started, and gave his forehead a hard blow with his
"And my baker!" he cried, "I will see you to-morrow, then, M. Gevrol."
"He is crazed," thought the head detective.
The old fellow was sane enough, but he had suddenly recollected the
Asnieres baker, whom he had asked to call at his house. Would he still
find him there?
Going down the stairs he met M. Daburon; but, as one has already seen,
he hardly deigned to reply to him.
He was soon outside, and trotted off along the quays.
"Now," said he to himself, "let us consider. Noel is once more plain
Noel Gerdy. He won't feel very pleased, for he thought so much of
having a great name. Pshaw! if he likes, I'll adopt him. Tabaret
doesn't sound so well as Commarin, but it's at least a name. Anyhow,
Gevrol's story in no way affects Albert's situation nor my
convictions. He is the legitimate son; so much the better for him!
That however, would not prove his innocence to me, if I doubted it. He
evidently knew nothing of these surprising circumstances, any more
than his father. He must have believed as well as the count in the
substitution having taken place. Madame Gerdy, too, must have been
ignorant of these facts; they probably invented some story to explain
the scar. Yes, but Madame Gerdy certainly knew that Noel was really
her son, for when he was returned to her, she no doubt looked for the
mark she had made on him. Then, when Noel discovered the count's
letters, she must have hastened to explain to him--"
Old Tabaret stopped as suddenly as if further progress were obstructed
by some dangerous reptile. He was terrified at the conclusion he had
"Noel, then, must have assassinated Widow Lerouge, to prevent her
confessing that the substitution had never taken place, and have burnt
the letters and papers which proved it!"
But he repelled this supposition with horror, as every honest man
drives away a detestable thought which by accident enters his mind.
"What an old idiot I am!" he exclaimed, resuming his walk; "this is
the result of the horrible profession I once gloried in following!
Suspect Noel, my boy, my sole heir, the personification of virtue and
honour! Noel, whom ten years of constant intercourse have taught me to
esteem and admire to such a degree that I would speak for him as I
would for myself! Men of his class must indeed be moved by terrible
passions to cause them to shed blood; and I have always known Noel to
have but two passions, his mother and his profession. And I dare even
to breath a suspicion against this noble soul? I ought to be whipped!
Old fool! isn't the lesson you have already received sufficiently
terrible? Will you never be more cautious?"
Thus he reasoned, trying to dismiss his disquieting thoughts, and
restraining his habits of investigation; but in his heart a tormenting
voice constantly whispered, "Suppose it is Noel."
He at length reached the Rue St. Lazare. Before the door of his house
stood a magnificent horse harnessed to an elegant blue brougham. At
the sight of these he stopped.
"A handsome animal!" he said to himself; "my tenants receive some
They apparently received visitors of an opposite class also, for, at
that moment, he saw M. Clergeot came out, worthy M. Clergeot, whose
presence in a house betrayed ruin just as surely as the presence of
the undertakers announce a death. The old detective, who knew
everybody, was well acquainted with the worthy banker. He had even
done business with him once, when collecting books. He stopped him and
said: "Halloa! you old crocodile, you have clients, then, in my
"So it seems," replied Clergeot dryly, for he does not like being
treated with such familiarity.
"Ah! ah!" said old Tabaret. And, prompted by the very natural
curiosity of a landlord who is bound to be very careful about the
financial condition of his tenants, he added, "Who the deuce are you
"I am ruining no one," replied M. Clergeot, with an air of offended
dignity. "Have you ever had reason to complain of me whenever we have
done business together? I think not. Mention me to the young advocate
up there, if you like; he will tell you whether he has reason to
regret knowing me."
These words produced a painful impression on Tabaret. What, Noel, the
prudent Noel, one of Clergeot's customers! What did it mean? Perhaps
there was no harm in it; but then he remembered the fifteen thousand
francs he had lent Noel on the Thursday.
"Yes," said he, wishing to obtain some more information, "I know that
M. Gerdy spends a pretty round sum."
Clergeot has the delicacy never to leave his clients undefended when
"It isn't he personally," he objected, "who makes the money dance; its
that charming little woman of his. Ah, she's no bigger than your
thumb, but she'd eat the devil, hoofs, horns, and all!"
What! Noel had a mistress, a woman whom Clergeot himself, the friend
of such creatures, considered expensive! The revelation, at such a
moment, pierced the old man's heart. But he dissembled. A gesture, a
look, might awaken the usurer's mistrust, and close his mouth.
"That's well known," replied Tabaret in a careless tone. "Youth must
have it's day. But what do you suppose the wench costs him a year?"
"Oh, I don't know! He made the mistake of not fixing a price with her.
According to my calculation, she must have, during the four years that
she has been under his protection, cost him close upon five hundred
Four years? Five hundred thousand francs! These words, these figures,
burst like bombshells on old Tabaret's brain. Half a million! In that
case, Noel was utterly ruined. But then--
"It is a great deal," said he, succeeding by desperate efforts in
hiding his emotion; "it is enormous. M. Gerdy, however, has
"He!" interrupted the usurer, shrugging his shoulders. "Not even
that!" he added, snapping his fingers; "He is utterly cleaned out.
But, if he owes you money, do not be anxious. He is a sly dog. He is
going to be married; and I have just renewed bills of his for twenty-
six thousand francs. Good-bye, M. Tabaret."
The usurer hurried away, leaving the poor old fellow standing like a
milestone in the middle of the pavement. He experienced something of
that terrible grief which breaks a father's heart when he begins to
realize that his dearly loved son is perhaps the worst of scoundrels.
And, yet, such was his confidence in Noel that he again struggled with
his reason to resist the suspicions which tormented him. Perhaps the
usurer had been slandering his friend. People who lend their money at
more than ten per cent are capable of anything. Evidently he had
exaggerated the extent of Noel's follies.
And, supposing it were true? Have not many men done just such insane
things for women, without ceasing to be honest?
As he was about to enter his house, a whirlwind of silk, lace, and
velvet, stopped the way. A pretty young brunette came out and jumped
as lightly as a bird into the blue brougham.
Old Tabaret was a gallant man, and the young woman was most charming,
but he never even looked at her. He passed in, and found his concierge
standing, cap in hand, and tenderly examining a twenty franc piece.
"Ah, sir," said the man, "such a pretty young person, and so lady-
like! If you had only been here five minutes sooner."
"What lady? why?"
"That elegant lady, who just went out, sir; she came to make some
inquiries about M. Gerdy. She gave me twenty francs for answering her
questions. It seems that the gentleman is going to be married; and she
was evidently much annoyed about it. Superb creature! I have an idea
that she is his mistress. I know now why he goes out every night."
"Yes, sir, but I never mentioned it to you, because he seemed to wish
to hide it. He never asks me to open the door for him, no, not he. He
slips out by the little stable door. I have often said to myself,
'Perhaps he doesn't want to disturb me; it is very thoughtful on his
part, and he seems to enjoy it so.'"
The concierge spoke with his eyes fixed on the gold piece. When he
raised his head to examine the countenance of his lord and master, old
Tabaret had disappeared.
"There's another!" said the concierge to himself. "I'll bet a hundred
sous, that he's running after the superb creature! Run ahead, go it,
old dotard, you shall have a little bit, but not much, for it's very
The concierge was right. Old Tabaret was running after the lady in the
"She will tell me all," he thought, and with a bound he was in the
street. He reached it just in time to see the blue brougham turn the
corner of the Rue St. Lazare.
"Heavens!" he murmured. "I shall lose sight of her, and yet she can
tell me the truth."
He was in one of those states of nervous excitement which engender
prodigies. He ran to the end of the Rue St. Lazare as rapidly as if he
had been a young man of twenty.
Joy! He saw the blue brougham a short distance from him in the Rue du
Havre, stopped in the midst of a block of carriages.
"I have her," said he to himself. He looked all about him, but there
was not an empty cab to be seen. Gladly would he have cried, like
Richard the III., "My kingdom for a cab!"
The brougham got out of the entanglement, and started off rapidly
towards the Rue Tronchet. The old fellow followed.
He kept his ground. The brougham gained but little upon him.
While running in the middle of the street, at the same time looking
out for a cab, he kept saying to himself: "Hurry on, old fellow, hurry
on. When one has no brains, one must use one's legs. Why didn't you
think to get this woman's address from Clergeot? You must hurry
yourself, my old friend, you must hurry yourself! When one goes in for
being a detective, one should be fit for the profession, and have the
shanks of a deer."
But he was losing ground, plainly losing ground. He was only halfway
down the Rue Tronchet, and quite tired out; he felt that his legs
could not carry him a hundred steps farther, and the brougham had
almost reached the Madeleine.
At last an open cab, going in the same direction as himself, passed
by. He made a sign, more despairing than any drowning man ever made.
The sign was seen. He made a supreme effort, and with a bound jumped
into the vehicle without touching the step.
"There," he gasped, "that blue brougham, twenty francs!"
"All right!" replied the coachman, nodding.
And he covered his ill-conditioned horse with vigorous blows,
muttering, "A jealous husband following his wife; that's evident. Gee
As for old Tabaret, he was a long time recovering himself, his
strength was almost exhausted.
For more than a minute, he could not catch his breath. They were soon
on the Boulevards. He stood up in the cab leaning against the driver's
"I don't see the brougham anywhere," he said.
"Oh, I see it all right, sir. But it is drawn by a splendid horse!"
"Yours ought to be a better one. I said twenty francs; I'll make it
The driver whipped up his horse most mercilessly, and growled, "It's
no use, I must catch her. For twenty francs, I would have let her
escape; for I love the girls, and am on their side. But, fancy! Forty
francs! I wonder how such an ugly man can be so jealous."
Old Tabaret tried in every way to occupy his mind with other matters.
He did not wish to reflect before seeing the woman, speaking with her,
and carefully questioning her.
He was sure that by one word she would either condemn or save her
"What! condemn Noel? Ah, well! yes."
The idea that Noel was the assassin harassed and tormented him, and
buzzed in his brain, like the moth which flies again and again against
the window where it sees a light.
As they passed the Chaussee d'Antin, the brougham was scarcely thirty
paces in advance. The cab driver turned, and said: "But the Brougham
"Then stop also. Don't lose sight of it; but be ready to follow it
again as soon as it goes off."
Old Tabaret leaned as far as he could out of the cab.
The young woman alighted, crossed the pavement, and entered a shop
where cashmeres and laces were sold.
"There," thought the old fellow, "is where the thousand franc notes
go! Half a million in four years! What can these creatures do with the
money so lavishly bestowed upon them? Do they eat it? On the altar of
what caprices do they squander these fortunes? They must have the
devil's own potions which they give to drink to the idiots who ruin
themselves for them. They must possess some peculiar art of preparing
and spicing pleasure; since, once they get hold of a man, he
sacrifices everything before forsaking them."
The cab moved on once more, but soon stopped again.
The brougham had made a fresh pause, this time in front of a curiosity
"The woman wants then to buy out half of Paris!" said old Tabaret to
himself in a passion. "Yes, if Noel committed the crime, it was she
who forced him to it. These are my fifteen thousand francs that she is
frittering away now. How long will they last her? It must have been
for money, then, that Noel murdered Widow Lerouge. If so, he is the
lowest, the most infamous of men! What a monster of dissimulation and
hypocrisy! And to think that he would be my heir, if I should die here
of rage! For it is written in my will in so many words, 'I bequeath to
my son, Noel Gerdy!' If he is guilty, there isn't a punishment
sufficiently severe for him. But is this woman never going home?"
The woman was in no hurry. The weather was charming, her dress
irresistible, and she intended showing herself off. She visited three
or four more shops, and at last stopped at a confectioner's, where she
remained for more than a quarter of an hour.
The old fellow, devoured by anxiety, moved about and stamped in his
cab. It was torture thus to be kept from the key to a terrible enigma
by the caprice of a worthless hussy! He was dying to rush after her,
to seize her by the arm, and cry out to her: "Home, wretched,
creature, home at once! What are you doing here? Don't you know that
at this moment your lover, he whom you have ruined, is suspected of an
assassination? Home, then, that I may question you, that I may learn
from you whether he is innocent or guilty. For you will tell me,
without knowing it. Ah! I have prepared a fine trap for you! Go home,
then, this anxiety is killing me!"
She returned to her carriage. It started off once more, passed up the
Rue de Faubourg Montmarte, turned into the Rue de Provence, deposited
its fair freight at her own door, and drove away.
"She lives here," said old Tabaret, with a sigh of relief.
He got out of the cab, gave the driver his forty francs, bade him
wait, and followed in the young woman's footsteps.
"The old fellow is patient," thought the driver; "and the little
brunette is caught."
The detective opened the door of the concierge's lodge.
"What is the name of the lady who just came in?" he demanded.
The concierge did not seem disposed to reply.
"Her name!" insisted the old man.
The tone was so sharp, so imperative, that the concierge was upset.
"Madame Juliette Chaffour," he answered.
"On what floor does she reside?"
"On the second, the door opposite the stairs."
A minute later, the old man was waiting in Madame Juliette's drawing-
room. Madame was dressing, the maid informed him, and would be down
Tabaret was astonished at the luxury of the room. There was nothing
flaring or coarse, or in bad taste. It was not at all like the
apartment of a kept woman. The old fellow, who knew a good deal about
such things, saw that everything was of great value. The ornaments on
the mantelpiece alone must have cost, at the lowest estimate, twenty
"Clergeot," thought he, "didn't exaggerate a bit."
Juliette's entrance disturbed his reflections.
She had taken off her dress, and had hastily thrown about her a loose
black dressing-gown, trimmed with cherry-coloured satin. Her beautiful
hair, slightly disordered after her drive, fell in cascades about her
neck, and curled behind her delicate ears. She dazzled old Tabaret. He
began to understand.
"You wished, sir, to speak with me?" she inquired, bowing gracefully.
"Madame," replied M. Tabaret, "I am a friend of Noel Gerdy's, I may
say his best friend, and--"
"Pray sit down, sir," interrupted the young woman.
She placed herself on a sofa, just showing the tips of her little feet
encased in slippers matching her dressing-gown, while the old man sat
down in a chair.
"I come, madame," he resumed, "on very serious business. Your presence
at M. Gerdy's--"
"Ah," cried Juliette, "he already knows of my visit? Then he must
employ a detective."
"My dear child--" began Tabaret, paternally.
"Oh! I know, sir, what your errand is. Noel has sent you here to scold
me. He forbade my going to his house, but I couldn't help it. It's
annoying to have a puzzle for a lover, a man whom one knows nothing
whatever about, a riddle in a black coat and a white cravat, a sad and
"You have been imprudent."
"Why? Because he is going to get married? Why does he not admit it
"Suppose that it is not true."
"Oh, but it is! He told that old shark Clergeot so, who repeated it to
me. Any way, he must be plotting something in that head of his; for
the last month he has been so peculiar, he has changed so, that I
hardly recognize him."
Old Tabaret was especially anxious to know whether Noel had prepared
an /alibi/ for the evening of the crime. For him that was the grand
question. If he had, he was certainly guilty; if not, he might still
be innocent. Madame Juliette, he had no doubt, could enlighten him on
Consequently he had presented himself with his lesson all prepared,
his little trap all set.
The young woman's outburst disconcerted him a little; but trusting to
the chances of conversation, he resumed.
"Will you oppose Noel's marriage, then?"
"His marriage!" cried Juliette, bursting out into a laugh; "ah, the
poor boy! If he meets no worse obstacle than myself, his path will be
smooth. Let him marry by all means, the sooner the better, and let me
hear no more of him."
"You don't love him, then?" asked the old fellow, surprised at this
"Listen, sir. I have loved him a great deal, but everything has an
end. For four years, I, who am so fond of pleasure, have passed an
intolerable existence. If Noel doesn't leave me, I shall be obliged to
leave him. I am tired of having a lover who is ashamed of me and who
"If he despises you, my pretty lady, he scarcely shows it here,"
replied old Tabaret, casting a significant glance about the room.
"You mean," said she rising, "that he spends a great deal of money on
me. It's true. He pretends that he has ruined himself on my account;
it's very possible. But what's that to me! I am not a grabbing woman;
and I would much have preferred less money and more regard. My
extravagance has been inspired by anger and want of occupation. M.
Gerdy treats me like a mercenary woman; and so I act like one. We are
"You know very well that he worships you."
"He? I tell you he is ashamed of me. He hides me as though I were some
horrible disease. You are the first of his friends to whom I have ever
spoken. Ask him how often he takes me out. One would think that my
presence dishonoured him. Why, no longer ago than last Tuesday, we
went to the theatre! He hired an entire box. But do you think that he
sat in it with me? Not at all. He slipped away and I saw no more of
him the whole evening."
"How so? Were you obliged to return home alone?"
"No. At the end of the play, towards midnight, he deigned to reappear.
We had arranged to go to the masked ball at the Opera and then to have
some supper. Ah, it was amusing! At the ball, he didn't dare to let
down his hood, or take off his mask. At supper, I had to treat him
like a perfect stranger, because some of his friends were present."
This, then, was the /alibi/ prepared in case of trouble. Juliette, had
she been less carried away by her own feelings, would have noticed old
Tabaret's emotion, and would certainly have held her tongue. He was
perfectly livid, and trembled like a leaf.
"Well," he said, making a great effort to utter the words, "the
supper, I suppose, was none the less gay for that."
"Gay!" echoed the young woman, shrugging her shoulders; "you do not
seem to know much of your friend. If you ever ask him to dinner, take
good care not to give him anything to drink. Wine makes him as merry
as a funeral procession. At the second bottle, he was more tipsy than
a cork; so much so, that he lost nearly everything he had with him:
his overcoat, purse, umbrella, cigar-case--"
Old Tabaret couldn't sit and listen any longer; he jumped to his feet
like a raving madman.
"Miserable wretch!" he cried, "infamous scoundrel! It is he; but I
And he rushed out, leaving Juliette so terrified that she called her
"Child," said she, "I have just made some awful blunder, have let some
secret out. I am sure that something dreadful is going to happen; I
feel it. That old rogue was no friend of Noel's, he came to circumvent
me, to lead me by the nose; and he succeeded. Without knowing it I
must have spoken against Noel. What can I have said? I have thought
carefully, and can remember nothing; but he must be warned though. I
will write him a line, while you find a messenger to take it."
Old Tabaret was soon in his cab and hurrying towards the Prefecture of
Police. Noel an assassin! His hate was without bounds, as formerly had
been his confiding affection. He had been cruelly deceived, unworthily
duped, by the vilest and the most criminal of men. He thirsted for
vengeance; he asked himself what punishment would be great enough for
"For he not only assassinated Claudine," thought he, "but he so
arranged the whole thing as to have an innocent man accused and
condemned. And who can say that he did not kill his poor mother?"
He regretted the abolition of torture, the refined cruelty of the
middle ages: quartering, the stake, the wheel. The guillotine acts so
quickly that the condemned man has scarcely time to feel the cold
steel cutting through his muscles; it is nothing more than a fillip on
the neck. Through trying so much to mitigate the pain of death, it has
now become little more than a joke, and might be abolished altogether.
The certainty of confounding Noel, of delivering him up to justice, of
taking vengeance upon him, alone kept old Tabaret up.
"It is clear," he murmured, "that the wretch forgot his things at the
railway station, in his haste to rejoin his mistress. Will they still
be found there? If he has had the prudence to go boldly, and ask for
them under a false name, I can see no further proofs against him.
Madame Chaffour's evidence won't help me. The hussy, seeing her lover
in danger, will deny what she has just told me; she will assert that
Noel left her long after ten o'clock. But I cannot think he has dared
to go to the railway station again."
About half way down the Rue Richelieu, M. Tabaret was seized with a
"I am going to have an attack, I fear," thought he. "If I die, Noel
will escape, and will be my heir. A man should always keep his will
constantly with him, to be able to destroy it, if necessary."
A few steps further on, he saw a doctor's plate on a door; he stopped
the cab, and rushed into the house. He was so excited, so beside
himself, his eyes had such a wild expression, that the doctor was
almost afraid of his peculiar patient, who said to him hoarsely:
The doctor ventured an objection; but already the old fellow had taken
off his coat, and drawn up one of his shirtsleeves.
"Bleed me!" he repeated. "Do you want me to die?"
The doctor finally obeyed, and old Tabaret came out quieted and
An hour later, armed with the necessary power, and accompanied by a
policeman, he proceeded to the lost property office at the St. Lazare
railway station, to make the necessary search. It resulted as he had
expected. He learnt that, on the evening of Shrove Tuesday, there had
been found in one of the second class carriages, of train No. 45, an
overcoat and an umbrella. He was shown the articles; and he at once
recognised them as belonging to Noel. In one of the pockets of the
overcoat, he found a pair of lavender kid gloves, frayed and soiled,
as well as a return ticket from Chatou, which had not been used.
In hurrying on, in pursuit of the truth, old Tabaret knew only too
well, what it was. His conviction, unwillingly formed when Clergeot
had told him of Noel's follies, had since been strengthened in a
number of other ways. When with Juliette, he had felt positively sure,
and yet, at this last moment, when doubt had become impossible, he
was, on beholding the evidence arrayed against Noel, absolutely
"Onwards!" he cried at last. "Now to arrest him."
And, without losing an instant, he hastened to the Palais de Justice,
where he hoped to find the investigating magistrate. Notwithstanding
the lateness of the hour, M. Daburon was still in his office. He was
conversing with the Count de Commarin, having related to him the facts
revealed by Pierre Lerouge whom the count had believed dead many years
Old Tabaret entered like a whirlwind, too distracted to notice the
presence of a stranger.
"Sir," he cried, stuttering with suppressed rage, "we have discovered
the real assassin! It is he, my adopted son, my heir, Noel!"
"Noel!" repeated M. Daburon, rising. And then in a lower tone, he
added, "I suspected it."
"A warrant is necessary at once," continued the old fellow. "If we
lose a minute, he will slip through our fingers. He will know that he
is discovered, if his mistress has time to warn him of my visit.
Hasten, sir, hasten!"
M. Daburon opened his lips to ask an explanation; but the old
detective continued: "That is not all. An innocent man, Albert, is
still in prison."
"He will not be so an hour longer," replied the magistrate; "a moment
before your arrival, I had made arrangements to have him released. We
must now occupy ourselves with the other one."
Neither old Tabaret nor M. Daburon had noticed the disappearance of
the Count de Commarin. On hearing Noel's name mentioned, he gained the
door quietly, and rushed out into the passage.
Noel had promised to use every effort, to attempt even the impossible,
to obtain Albert's release. He in fact did interview the Public
Prosecutor and some members of the bar, but managed to be repulsed
everywhere. At four o'clock, he called at the Count de Commarin's
house, to inform his father of the ill success of his efforts.
"The Count has gone out," said Denis; "but if you will take the
trouble to wait----"
"I will wait," answered Noel.
"Then," replied the valet, "will you please follow me? I have the
count's orders to show you into his private room."
This confidence gave Noel an idea of his new power. He was at home,
henceforth, in that magnificent house, he was the master, the heir!
His glance, which wandered over the entire room, noticed the
genealogical tree, hanging on the wall. He approached it, and read.
It was like a page, and one of the most illustrious, taken from the
golden book of French nobility. Every name which has a place in our
history was there. The Commarins had mingled their blood with all the
great families; two of them had even married daughters of royalty. A
warm glow of pride filled the advocate's heart, his pulse beat
quicker, he raised his head haughtily, as he murmured, "Viscount de
The door opened. He turned, and saw the count entering. As Noel was
about to bow respectfully, he was petrified by the look of hatred,
anger, and contempt on his father's face.
A shiver ran through his veins; his teeth chattered; he felt that he
"Wretch!" cried the count.
And, dreading his own violence, the old nobleman threw his cane into a
corner. He was unwilling to strike his son; he considered him unworthy
of being struck by his hand. Then there was a moment of mortal
silence, which seemed to both of them a century.
At the same time their minds were filled with thoughts, which would
require a volume to transcribe.
Noel had the courage to speak first.
"Sir," he began.
"Silence!" exclaimed the count hoarsely; "be silent! Can it be, heaven
forgive me! that you are my son? Alas, I cannot doubt it now! Wretch!
you knew well that you were Madame Gerdy's son. Infamous villain! you
not only committed this murder, but you did everything to cause an
innocent man to be charged with your crime! Parricide! you have also
killed your mother."
The advocate attempted to stammer forth a protest.
"You killed her," continued the count with increased energy, "if not
by poison, at least by your crime. I understand all now; she was not
delirious this morning. But you know as well as I do what she was
saying. You were listening, and, if you dared to enter at that moment
when one word more would have betrayed you, it was because you had
calculated the effect of your presence. It was to you that she
addressed her last word, 'Assassin!'"
Little by little, Noel had retired to the end of the room, and he
stood leaning against the wall, his head thrown back, his hair on end,
his look haggard. A convulsive trembling shook his frame. His face
betrayed a terror most horrible to see, the terror of the criminal
"I know all, you see," continued the count; "and I am not alone in my
knowledge. At this moment, a warrant of arrest is issued against you."
A cry of rage like a hollow rattle burst from the advocate's breast.
His lips, which were hanging through terror, now grew firm.
Overwhelmed in the very midst of his triumph, he struggled against
this fright. He drew himself up with a look of defiance.
M. de Commarin, without seeming to pay any attention to Noel,
approached his writing table, and opened a drawer.
"My duty," said he, "would be to leave you to the executioner who
awaits you; but I remember that I have the misfortune to be your
father. Sit down; write and sign a confession of your crime. You will
then find fire-arms in this drawer. May heaven forgive you!"
The old nobleman moved towards the door. Noel with a sign stopped him,
and drawing at the same time a revolver from his pocket, he said:
"Your fire-arms are needless, sir; my precautions, as you see, are
already taken; they will never catch me alive. Only----"
"Only?" repeated the count harshly.
"I must tell you, sir," continued the advocate coldly, "that I do not
choose to kill myself--at least, not at present."
"Ah!" cried M. de Commarin in disgust, "you are a coward!"
"No, sir, not a coward; but I will not kill myself until I am sure
that every opening is closed against me, that I cannot save myself."
"Miserable wretch!" said the count, threateningly, "must I then do it
He moved towards the drawer, but Noel closed it with a kick.
"Listen to me, sir," said he, in that hoarse, quick tone, which men
use in moments of imminent danger, "do not let us waste in vain words
the few moments' respite left me. I have committed a crime, it is
true, and I do not attempt to justify it; but who laid the foundation
of it, if not yourself? Now, you do me the favor of offering me a
pistol. Thanks. I must decline it. This generosity is not through any
regard for me. You only wish to avoid the scandal of my trial, and the
disgrace which cannot fail to reflect upon your name."
The count was about to reply.
"Permit me," interrupted Noel imperiously. "I do not choose to kill
myself; I wish to save my life, if possible. Supply me with the means
of escape; and I promise you that I will sooner die than be captured.
I say, supply me with means, for I have not twenty francs in the
world. My last thousand franc note was nearly all gone the day when--
you understand me. There isn't sufficient money at home to give my
mother a decent burial. Therefore, I say, give me some money."
"Then I will deliver myself up to justice, and you will see what will
happen to the name you hold so dear!"
The count, mad with rage, rushed to his table for a pistol. Noel
placed himself before him.
"Oh, do not let us have any struggle," said he coldly; "I am the
M. de Commarin recoiled. By thus speaking of the trial, of the scandal
and of the disgrace, the advocate had made an impression upon him.
For a moment hesitating between love for his name and his burning
desire to see this wretch punished, the old nobleman stood undecided.
Finally his feeling for his rank triumphed.
"Let us end this," he said in a tremulous voice, filled with the
utmost contempt; "let us end this disgraceful scene. What do you
demand of me?"
"I have already told you, money, all that you have here. But make up
your mind quickly."
On the previous Saturday the count had withdrawn from his bankers the
sum he had destined for fitting up the apartments of him whom he
thought was his legitimate child.
"I have eighty thousand francs here," he replied.
"That's very little," said the advocate; "but give them to me. I will
tell you though that I had counted on you for five hundred thousand
francs. If I succeed in escaping my pursuers, you must hold at my
disposal the balance, four hundred and twenty thousand francs. Will
you pledge yourself to give them to me at the first demand? I will
find some means of sending for them, without any risk to myself. At
that price, you need never fear hearing of me again."
By way of reply, the count opened a little iron chest imbedded in the
wall, and took out a roll of bank notes, which he threw at Noel's
An angry look flashed in the advocate's eyes, as he took one step
towards his father.
"Oh! take care!" he said threateningly; "people who, like me, have
nothing to lose are dangerous. I can yet give myself up, and----"
He stooped down, however, and picked up the notes.